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Author Topic: [Sorcerer] Parasites, Possessors and Trolls  (Read 7076 times)
Jonas Ferry
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« on: August 26, 2006, 07:41:21 AM »

Last weekend I played Sorcerer with three friends. One of them, Björn, I've played with since, oh, 1994 or so. Through Björn's student dormitory I met Tobias and I guess I started playing with him in 1999. The last guy was Johan who I got to know in 2000, me and him studying similar programs and doing new-student activities together. He had roleplayed some fantasy game before once that he couldn't name, but hadn't really roleplayed, so I saw it as a chance to introduce him to it.

I wrote a bit about my pregame thoughts in Prep, Swedish 19th century folklore in the Adept Press forum, but in short the game would be about a small community in Sweden some time during the 19th century. I had emailed the three of them three setting ideas, not situations really, but mostly a time-period and some color. They decided the historical game sounded fun, so that was what I prepared, but I didn't decide an actual situation until after character creation.

Ok, that's not entirely true. I had the film Laura (1944) in the back of my head, and if someone created a woman NPC I would use the main character and the boyfriend from that film as inspirations. Also, since I decided that Humanity was "Sense of Community", I thought that some kind of break of that sense would be interesting and that the situation should reflect that. I read the Wikipedia article on the sense of community and the four elements gave me ideas what could constitute a Humanity gain or check.


Character creation
We met Saturday afternoon and made food together. I avoided starting the game discussion while we ate, to give people a chance to get to know each other (Johan only knew the others briefly, and vice versa) and to get a nice social atmosphere going. I used to be all "when we meet to game, we game", but with recent games where 2-4 hours are plenty you can be more relaxed and that's good.

Character creation was very communal, and everyone pitched ideas for the other characters. The group wanted a mining town in the early 19th century, so the small village had a couple of mines, some forest activity and farming. This was before the major Swedish agricultural reform that changed village farming from each household owning a part of each field to each household owning their own fields, and this communal farming exemplified the Humanity definition nicely.

The three characters were:

Lars, played by Björn. Lars was the owner of a formerly worthless mine that had suddenly, though demonic help, become profitable. His wife wanted to be part of the village life, but Lars didn't like her spending time away from home. His first demon was a parasite conjured from deep in the mine that gave him the ability to see through stone and find silver to mine. It needed sacrifices of unbaptized souls. Lars's kicker was that a government mining inspector arrived to collect taxes and find out how the mine could suddenly be profitable.

Algot, played by Tobias. The second son of the biggest mine owner in the village, secretly in love with a girl called Johanna. His demon was a troll that could inspire him to write great poems to show his girl, with a need of silver. Algot had struck a deal that the troll could have the family mine's silver when Algot became the owner, something that shouldn't happen since both parents and the older brother were alive. Algot was a bastard son, with his mother being a mythological Skogsrå (a demon), with Humanity trading and a Humanity cap from start using the rules in Sword. Algot's kicker was that his father was brutally killed and that the last will of the father gave Algot control over the mine. All the silver suddenly disappeared, as per the deal with his demon.

Anskar, played by Johan. Anskar was a woodsman and a hunter, who spent most of his time in the forest. His wife was a known adulteress and had been seeing Algot's father. In desperation Anskar contacted a demon to get help stop her from seeing Algot's father, and the demon possessed her and killed the man. The demon's need was sex, and the kicker was that the possessed wife came home after the killing and said that it was time to pay for services rendered.

During character creation I stressed that they couldn't have "accidental" summonings, but Lars's and Anskar's were pretty close anyway. Still, the kickers and the filled out story diagrams on the character sheets gave me lots of material to work with. We talked about playing out the binding scenes and roll the dice, but it was a bit late and we decided to do it in the beginning of the session next day. Johanna would be my "Laura".

Actual play
Next day, Sunday, we met after lunch to begin play. The demons were bound and I released my first set of bangs:

* The inspector showed up on Lars doorstep obviously (to the players) carrying the same kind of parasite as Lars.

* The Skogsrå told Algot that he was the owner of the mine (the father had been killed earlier that night, but no one in the village knew that) and that his people should stop cutting down the nearby Black Forest for the mine.

* Helga, Anskar's possessed wife, told him she knew there was an upcoming dance and that she wanted to go. She told him flat out she wanted to meet other men there.

Everything rolled from there. I had 12 prepared bangs in total and used maybe half of them the first session. I reused some of the others and wrote 5 new, more specialized bangs based on what had happened in the first session. The two parasites in Lars and the inspector both had the Desire "competition", so I had decided that they would try and fight over Lars's mine. The parasite in Lars communicated by increasing his body temperature when it wanted something, with the player going "does it feel good or bad?", and me answering "it feels like you're warmer inside". That was actually kind of fun.

The first major twist was that Johanna was found dead in the same way as Algot's father on her way to Lars's house. Her face was destroyed by claws, but they recognized her dress. What the players and characters didn't know was that it wasn't Johanna, she was out in the woods with Algot's older brother, but a maid that had borrowed one of her dresses. The inspector was instantly suspected, mainly by Lars who didn't like the guy at all. The players were really good at positioning their characters in scenes where they could interact - Tobias, for example, decided that he was going to look for his father at Helga's (and Anskar's) place, thereby witnessing the sexual binding ritual between the two.

The rivalry between Lars and the inspector ended in death for one of them. When they went down to inspect the mine I decided to roll the inspector sorcerer's Lore to see if he could sense that a ritual had taken place there. He did, and wanted to investigate. Björn said that Lars brought a sledgehammer and walked behind the inspector into the dark side tunnel to possibly finish him off. When they were out of sight from others a fight erupted, with the inspector's demon using special damage claws and Lars's a special damage heart attack. With power 5 and lethal special damage they were really dangerous, and both sorcerers were quickly down to Will rolls to do anything at all. I decided that the inspector would flee to fight another day, but Björn had his character try to kill him anyway. I changed my mind, the free-and-clear phase, and had him attack instead to finish off Lars. The inspector won and Lars was badly hurt. I said that no one would find him in time, since they both had taken great care to get out of sight of other people. It felt good to be able to play my NPC full out, and not back down because the PC had to survive to experience some kind of preplanned story.

One thing that happened was that we started having discussions on mechanics at the end of each free-and-clear phase. I think this was good, as we all got the chance to change what the characters were doing if the roll would be too hard. You usually have many different ways of using the core mechanics, and decide what to roll against what else. For the third session (Monday evening) I started using conflict diagrams for all conflicts with more than two participants and this really helped a lot. I can't recommend it enough to new GMs of the game, it was suddenly a lot easier to know who defended against what.

An interesting thing was that Johan, the new player, didn't seem that attached to his own PC. When the character wasn't present he started suggesting what NPCs would do, and in a conflict when Algot's troll tried to stop his master from handing over the mine to the older brother in front of the village priest he got to control the brother. That worked fine, and I thought it was nice that he involved himself in other scenes than just his character's.

I used the possessed wife to try and push Anskar (and the player Johan) into taking a stand against her ideas, as she became increasingly destructive. Only thing was he didn't, even as she brought home men to their shared bed with him still in it and stuff. Towards the middle of the third and last session she approached Anskar together with the inspector with the proposition of killing Lars's widow and taking her mine. Or rather have the possessor demon leave the wife and possess the widow instead, thereby taking control of the mine. Anskar agreed and I thought to myself that there was nothing that would make Johan have Anskar take a stand against her ideas.

But that was it; he contacted Algot and told him a plan to get rid of the demons. Johan didn't know if the wife was alive or not, something I had rolled in secret. The demon told his character that the wife was alive, but that he could banish it from her body if he just bound it in the widow instead. To make sure he wouldn't double cross them, the inspector would kill the wife if Anskar didn't perform the widow possession. Only Anskar had another idea: Algot would wait with the next-town law enforcer and some of his men outside the widow's house, and enter just as the possessor was banished. I was surprised, and that was cool. That turned out to be the climactic final scene: first the attack on the widow to perform the banish and the new binding and then the fight against the parasite possessed inspector. His special damage was really horrific, and he put both PCs out of the fight quite early. The players took over new characters from the bunch of mooks and finally managed to subdue the monster. They killed the inspector and the parasite seeped into the ground.

I finished the game with the players narrating epilogues in the style of My Life with Master, something I use in most of my games nowadays. Tobias said that his character gave the mine to his brother, stayed away from anything sorcerous for a while as it had burnt him bad and didn't get to actually marry the girl he wanted. Johan talked about the now free wife and how she deeply traumatized (she had been conscious while possessed and done some pretty bad things) went back to living with her husband. But something had changed and they couldn't even look at each other without getting reminded of all the bad stuff, so she left him and moved to the next town to a happy marriage. Anskar stayed behind, living on his own for the rest of his life. Both endings fit nicely with two of the four endings suggested by Ron in the book, which was cool to discover.

It was a really fun game to play, and I look forward to playing more Sorcerer. To only bother about the different NPCs and not some overall story freed up a lot of energy usually spent pulling strings to get the players where I want. It was nice to treat them as more than obstacles for the PCs, and I really got a sense of ownership over both the NPCs and the demons. I'm glad I didn't forget to play the demons, but instead used them to drive the PCs to do bad stuff.
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One Can Have Her, film noir roleplaying in black and white.

Check out the indie RPG category at Wikipedia.
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: September 06, 2006, 07:21:59 PM »

Hi Jonas,

This thread nearly fell off page 3 of Actual Play, but I caught it just in time. (Reminder to everyone: all threads on the first three pages of Actual Play are fair game for further posts, unless they've been closed internally.)

One thing I hadn't realized upon first reading was that you played three full sessions in three days. Fantastic! I'm glad the game came through for you.

Did you have any orthogonal conflicts as discussed in [Sorcerer] Orthogonal vs. oppositional conflicts? How did your procedures of play match the concerns raised in that thread?

Best, Ron
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Jonas Ferry
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« Reply #2 on: September 10, 2006, 07:22:12 AM »

Hello Ron,

Now I've printed and read the thread on orthogonal conflicts and can answer how we handled them. Yes, it was three "rapid" sessions, because I wanted character generation on a separate day and then two play session to avoid the rushed feeling I get when I do one shots. That was good this time, as the third session went a lot smoother than the second because I had a chance to do something about the rules confusion and story material we created.

One thing I had problems with during the second session was oppositional dice from "static difficulties". We had a situation at the end of the second session at a village dance where Anskar wanted to take his possessed wife home because she kept disappearing into the bushes with other men, but the demon didn't want to leave. Björn, who played the character who got killed half-way through the session, had a new character: Robert, the son of the local priest. Robert had summoned the spirit of a Viking king and wanted to start a brawl to feed his demon's Need. We also had Algot's brother who had just been ridiculed by Algot and was drunk and quarrelsome.

So, the complex conflict... Algot's brother wanted to "defend" the woman by punching Anskar. Robert wanted to make people form a ring around the fighters to keep them fighting. Anskar wanted to convince the audience that Algot's brother was a lunatic and that they should help him out.

Here's what I did wrong: I let Algot's brother make a defense roll to stop Anskar from getting help from the audience. What I should've done is make the three active participants roll their dice to determine the order and then roll oppositional dice wherever needed, once for Robert's attempt to convince the group and one for Anskar, probably the second one modified by the first. Algot's brother's only attempt to stop Anskar should be by punching him hard enough to stop him. Instead I let him punch and then defend, roll his full Stamina, to prevent Anskar by grappling him.

Johan who played Anskar didn't like this, he wanted to roll against the group, but I didn't see the problem at the time. Only between the second and third session did I see that I tried to solve an orthogonal conflict in an oppositional manner.

This is where the conflict diagrams for the third session really shone for me. Whenever I drew an arrow out to "nowhere" I knew I had to assign oppositional dice and that characters were only allowed to defend against arrows pointing directly at them.

Is it something special from the other thread you want me to try and recall from the game, some special difficulty?
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One Can Have Her, film noir roleplaying in black and white.

Check out the indie RPG category at Wikipedia.
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: September 10, 2006, 05:17:22 PM »

That's a great answer, Jonas. You've satisfied what I wanted to know.

Best, Ron
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